There is a growing trend of parents practicing some tough love to teach today's kids a little something called respect. There was the mom who made her daughter sell her iPod online while holding up a sign listing her sins as a cyberbully and the Indianapolis mom who made her son hold up a sign calling himself a thief and the Florida parents who had their daughter hold a sign up in public about how disrespectful she is. That's right, these folks are using public shaming, sometimes with the help of the Internet, to set their kids straight. And let me tell you something about what they're doing: it's disgraceful.
Pictured above: a girl whose future therapist will just sit there and cry.
Now, I know what you're saying: "You don't even know them" or "Have you asked a child psychologist?" or "Damn, I was hoping this was going to be a funny list about famous boobs," but frankly, I'm disgusted. This trend is nothing short of reprehensible, and as someone who has spent a little over a decade immersed in both parenting and the Internet, I know they don't go together. Here are three reasons why ...
Let's start with the obvious question: Why are parents doing this? Why are they taking the very private matters of their children's behavior, and their response to that behavior, and including other people? If you ask them, the response will be something like "So they know how it feels" or "They deserve it," but clearly that can't be enough. That's particularly true in the case of the mom who publicly e-shamed her daughter for alleged cyberbullying. But if many of these parents found out that their son beat the crap out of a kid, would they be so cavalier as to inflict the same beating on their child in the middle of town? Probably not, even though technically their child might "deserve it" under the same tit-for-tat mentality they'd use to justify the public shaming.
The most important question here, however, is not does the punishment fit the crime, but what's the motivation for involving other people in parenting? These are not cases of seeking the wisdom and judgment of outsiders to assist you. This is about needing an audience. Making your parenting public is no different from a teenage girl who posts links of herself dancing to "Wrecking Ball." The motivation is simply "dig me." Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like these parents get the same retribution:
I have to believe that part of this trend comes from our society's fascination with the fake fame of reality TV and the Internet. We've all heard that Andy Warhol said in the future everyone would be famous for 15 minutes, but what we didn't realize is that most new celebrities would only hold our attention for 14. The parents have made their parenting public, just like women who update their profile pics after getting a new haircut or obnoxious Internet writers who post selfies.
Hey, did I ever mention I used to be in a band?
But parenting is not a reality show. And even if people would be stupid enough to watch So You Think You Can Parent (as proven by the people who applaud these parenting stories on social media), the show simply shouldn't exist. Not just because public punishment should not be a pathway to fame, but because, as expressed below, I believe most of these parents have even darker motives.
No one likes it when their kids act up in public. It's embarrassing. Yes, when you're in a restaurant and your kid tells a waiter to "give me a straw" instead of asking politely, you feel bad that a server was spoken to in such a demeaning fashion. But you also feel like a dick. Your kid just made you look like a bad parent to an outsider. You know that waiter is now wondering if you've taught your child any manners or if you speak to people that way. So what do you do? Well, some people will just smile, say "kids," and shrug it off, some might insist that their child ask again correctly, or some might severely reprimand their child so that every person who might have heard the misbehavior also heard how the parent dealt with it.
That last kind of parenting has nothing to do with raising your children right and everything to do with covering your ass. "Look at me! Look how shocked I am. I don't approve of my child. I'm just as surprised as you, and I simply won't stand for it." It's disgraceful. This is a parent who more greatly values the approval of strangers than their child's trust.
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"Are these strangers more important to me than my child? Hmmmm. Don't rush me!"
These public shamings are nothing more than the attempt of embarrassed parents to wash their hands of their children. Parenting is hard. Your children will do good and bad things for which you deserve absolutely no credit or blame. And sometimes there is a direct link between your parenting and their behavior. But regardless, people are shit, and, yes, you will often be blamed or credited for every single thing your kid does. That's true. The thing to do with that is to not care. It's not your job to care about people and their perceptions. This is your child. Your child, who never asked to be born. A child who is in your home because of you. If you let that child know that a single waiter or, heaven forbid, the World Wide Web's opinion is more important to you than their trust, what do you think will happen? What child would then worry about disappointing a parent who holds them in such little regard when compared to their own reputation?
You've probably heard it said that parenting is just the hardest job there is, and that's almost true. Parenting well is the hardest job. You have to stay attuned to your children and their needs. But more accurate than being complicated, parenting is just messy. There are so many decisions to make, and sometimes you can make the wrong decisions even with good intentions. You can apply tough love to a child who just needs understanding or show compassion to a bad seed who needs to be set straight. Being a parent means screwing up. You just will. Even if you want to be good with all your heart, you will totally blow some calls.
"Baby offsides! Five-yard penalty!"
The good news is that it's not fatal. One decision typically doesn't make you a good or bad parent, because everything you do is in the context of a lifetime spent with your child. It's very hard for anyone to judge your decisions without seeing every moment of your family's life. People should know better than to judge parents on a snapshot of their parenting.
Unless it's this snapshot.
But you know what? The same goes for children. Sure, maybe you did catch your daughter cyberbullying. Maybe what she did was awful. Maybe in that moment you saw something so utterly repugnant that you thought it made sense to do everything in your power to snuff it out. So you took a picture of the sin, isolated it, and held it up for display. And then you put it online or you put your child out in public with a sign where you knew the Net would make a story out of it. But does that tell the spectators the whole story? Are you really relying on the Net to understand the intricacies of your child's sins? The Internet is good at lolcats and pornography. Do you expect it to ask the next questions, like is this child bullying because she's bullied at home? Is this child stealing because he's trying to buy things to fill the empty spaces where love should be? Does the disrespectful child have parents worthy of respect? No, the Internet typically doesn't ask the deeper questions. And come to think of it, parents who try to convince the world that they're doing their job by selling out their children as sinners are probably counting on that.
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